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Top Five Greatest Garage Gurus

By Carl Weiss
Courtesy of Flickr

A number of tech startups from Apple to HP and others got their start in the humble garage. Our own city of Jacksonville Florida has been the birthplace and host, to one of the world's first creativity, startup and crowdfunding festivals called OneSpark. With all the growth in the tech industries, I can't help but be excited about startups. So in this article, I will countdown the top 5 Garage Gurus of all time. We will also look at where the next titans of tech are likely to come from as well as what the garage startup has evolved into now that tech business incubators and cowork space abound.

When it comes to the Internet everyone is familiar with the three letters WWW.  Well, today we are going to talk about the three G’s, since if it weren’t for these top five Garage Gurus, there would never have been an Internet in the first place.  A number of startups from Apple to HP got their start in the humble garage.  Some of these made their owners billionaires.  All of them changed the ways in which the world works. Let’s take a look at the top five garage businesses in our countdown starting with HP my 5th pick:

"HP"-Garage in Palo Alto
"HP"-Garage in Palo Alto (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
An oldie but a goodie, HP got its start in 1939 when Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard invested $535 in order to start building audio oscillators in a garage in Palo Alto, California.  One of their first customers was the Walt Disney Studios, which purchased eight oscillators in order to augment the sound system for its animated feature film, “Fantasia.”  Widely regarded as the birthplace of Silicon Valley, Hewlett Packard is today one of the largest and most respected tech companies in the world. 

#4 – Google

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We couldn’t talk tech without mentioning the 800-pound gorilla in the room named Google.  Started by Stanford graduate students Larry Page and Sergey Brin in Susan Wojcicky’s garage in September 1998, they unsuccessfully tried to sell the search engine to Excite for $1 million a year later.  Excite’s loss was the college student’s gain as the company went public in 2001, raising $2.7 billion.  Today, Google is the most trafficked search engine online, garnering 80% of all web searches.  During the intervening 14 years, Google has diversified itself into everything from medical research to robotics.  It has also bought or developed dozens of other tech businesses since going public.

#3 – Disney

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While not technically a tech company, although they're current crop of animated feature films are today produced on computers, the Walt Disney Studio got its start in Walt Disney’s uncle’s one-car garage in Anaheim, California. In the early days, cartoons were drawn frame by frame. This is how Disney's first feature cartoon was made. It started with a mouse named Mickey, today Disney is no Mickey Mouse operation, being the highest-grossing media conglomerate in the world.

#2 – Apple

image courtesy of
Started in the year of our Bicentennial, 1976, two Steves by the name of Jobs and Wozniak started a revolution by bringing personal computing to the masses.  One of their first major orders for 50 Apple I Computers was constructed in Job’s parents' garage in Cupertino, California.  Although they had their battles with everyone from Bill Gates to the Beatles over the Apple trademark name, the rest is history being that today Apple is the most valuable tech company in the world.

#1 – Amazon

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What sounded like a South American River turned into a waterfall of profit for Jeff Bezos, who founded in 1994 as an online bookstore in his garage in Bellevue, Washington.  While it took Jeff until 1995 to sell his first book online, he made the company grow by being one of the quickest online businesses to go IPO in 1997.  Today, this online e-tail powerhouse has one of the most automated shipping systems in the business with more than 40,000 robots employed to help take products to market.  Amazon has also been flirting with using delivery drones to enable them to compete with retailers who can offer products on the spot.  2015 is shaping up to be the start of the shipping wars as e-tailers and major retailers duke it out for dominance.

Building Something from Nothing

English: "Sopa da pedra" (stone soup...
English: "Sopa da pedra" (stone soup) served in Almeirim, Portugal. Português: Sopa da pedra servida em Almeirim, em Portuga. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Like the story “Stone Soup,” where an itinerant stranger tricks the town folk into sharing their food, all of these people literally made something out of nothing.  Think about it.  When Jeff Bezos started Amazon, major booksellers didn’t regard him as a threat.  Heck, it took him almost a year to sell his first book.  When Jobs and Wozniak tried to sell the Apple 1, it was little more than a computer kit that sold for $666.66 ($2,763 in 2015 dollars.)

What turned these businesses from a curiosity to an industry were several things, including a little bit of luck and a ton of pluck.  Part businessmen, part showmen, each and every one of these individuals ― while regarded as genius innovators today ― had to suffer the slings and arrows not only of their competitors, but of their peers as well. (“Go on, get out of here boy, yer botherin’ me!”)  Yet persist they did to become icons of industry, proving the old saw that success is “10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.”
MakerBot Industries
MakerBot Industries (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today this trend continues as other tinkerers piece together hardware and software in their garages, hoping to be the next tech sensation. A great example of this is MakerBot.  MakerBot, a 3D printer manufactures started out as an open-source kit company out of a garage and now is a major player in the burgeoning 3D printer market. You can even buy their products a SAN club.

While many of these future Garage Gurus will be products of universities, others can come out of the blue.   Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba in China, founded his company in his apartment in 1999. He claims to have coined the name while sitting in a San Francisco coffee shop.  On September 5, 2014 the company went public, raising more than $20 billion, making it the largest IPO in history.

Industries to keep an eye on in 2015 are offering such inventions as 3D Printing, Personal Robotics and Drones, Wearable Computing, Battery & Power Technology and Cybersecurity and Robotic Exoskeletons. While the next wave of Garage Gurus could come from one of these areas, or from some other innovation such as nanotechnology is anybody’s guess.  What is certain is that some of the most profound changes to our society will almost certainly have its start in the most humble of beginnings… the garage.

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In this article, I have provided the top five greatest garage gurus that spawned huge successful companies in a countdown fashion. I also have provided some of the key characteristics of how and why these garage innovators broke through the noise of their times and a glimpse at what’s new garage gurus are cropping up today.  

If you would like to read similar articles, check out, “The Smartest Guys in the Room”  or “New Year New Tech” or type these phrases in the search box in the top of the blog.

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Thanks for sharing your time with me.

Carl Weiss is president of Working the Web to Win, an award-winning digital marketing agency based in Jacksonville, Florida.  You can listen to Carl live every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern on BlogTalkRadio

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1 comment:

  1. I can't even change my car's oil in the garage without making a mess.